Coaching & Development, Human Performance, Leadership & Culture, Performance | Oct 4, 2017
What we discovered by inviting people to share the moments that mattered in their life in sport

By Al Smith, Chris Goddard and Scott Drawer

The Stories People Tell

Don’t forget – no one else sees the world the way you do, so no one else can tell the stories that you have to tell.”

Charles de Lint

In the first two parts of this series we examined why we decided to engage the wisdom of the crowd to explore the future of sport and how we went about connecting to the global sports performance community to elicit their views. We now turn our attention to the stories people told of the moments that mattered in their sporting life.

Having elicited 150 stories from a high quality cohort of athletes, coaches, support staff and leaders, what’s immediately striking in exploring the data is the incredible diversity of the experiences people shared and the meaning they’ve made from their life in performance sport. In order to make sense of this rich tapestry of talented tales, this project sought to break new ground by inviting storytellers to signify the meaning of their own stories through a series of signification frameworks, outlined in part 2. In looking through these lenses we can then begin to consider what matters to people on their own terms. The patterns emerging from each landscape are testament to the extent to which, even in the cut and thrust of performance sport, the best of human endeavour truly consists in diversity. That any search for a singular winning formula is rendered futile in the face of the sheer breadth of ways that people find meaning and purpose in their sporting experiences.

Thematic Analysis

In an effort to understand and bring some collective meaning to these unique experiences a thematic anaylsis was conducted in order to explore the common themes and small signals that were present in the cohort as a whole. The most common themes and a selection of small signals are represented in figure 1.



Figure 1. A learning framework constructed from the thematic analysis

Example Themes

In the pages that follow a small number of exemplar stories have been selected to represent the four higher order themes that were identified in the thematic analysis above. They are presented here in raw story form alongside selected signifiers that demonstrate the meaning the storyteller chose to make (red dots), set against the narrative landscape of the cohort as a whole (blue dots).


Figure 2. Personal development: Tapping into yesterday


Figure 3. Not all that matters is measurable: When I realised the secrets of training quality


Figure 4. Goal alignment: To achieve something that’s never been done before


Figure 5. Embracing uncertainty: Rugby experiences


Patterns of Signification

A further analysis was conduced to explore the relationship between the patterns that emerged in different signification landscapes. An example of this is provided below (Fig. 6) in relation to the theme of teamship and its relation to the learning culture that people found themselves in. By constructing meaning in this way we create the possibility of developing small scale strategies to fit the different patterns of meaning that people have made rather than trying to apply a large scale strategy that risks being ill-fitting to all.


Figure 6. Signification pattern: Teamship


Shaping The Future of Sport

As our case is new, we must think and act anew.”

Abraham Lincoln

This small set of exemplar stories and signification landscapes begin to invite us to open up rather than narrow down the ways in which we might help more people live a meaningful life in sport. Further to this, the pilot project from which they came represents only a small step towards a deeper consideration of the complexities of meaning that sit behind people’s lives in sport. But a step that begs us to go further. In the final part of this series we will consider what those first steps into acting anew might entail for the willing and how we might afford more people the opportunity to attend more fully to what it means to live a meaningful life in sport.

Further reading:

Part One: Join us as we Take a Glimpse into the Future of Sport

Part Two: The Future of Sport and Learning from the Moments that Matter

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